Re-Connecting New London is a project sponsored by:
UCONN Center for Transportation & Urban Planning,
UCONN Community Research & Design Collaborative
Re-New London Council, New London Landmarks
Catherine Johnson, Architect & Town Planner (860) 343-1611
June 24, Thursday evening 6:30 pm Presentation, Analysis, Open Mike, Summary of public comment June 25 Friday evening 5:30 pm Presentation of proposals, feedback
Location: Connecticut: Palmer Library (Blaustein Humanities Center), Room 203 (follow signs).
This project is about developing a new vision for New London. We will explore ways to reconnect the north end, where two college campuses are located, to the downtown, approximately 2 miles south. We will investigate a physical solution that will restore New London to the compact, walkable college town that it could be.
We feel that this project is important for New London, but it will also serve as a working model for thousands of traditional hometowns in America that have suffered from highway construction and urban renewal. The real importance of this project lies in the fact that the restoring of connections in our traditional communities is increasingly being seen as a significant strategy for not only for reducing the nation’s environmental footprint but also for enhancing economic and social sustainability.
Lewis Mumford’s 1964 book, “The Highway and the City”, states that transportation should be about access, not mobility. Mumford expressed great concern that the “mobility first” mind-set in the US was ravaging its cities.
Fifty years ago, the face of New London was irrevocably altered. Like thousands of cities and towns around the country, the physical fabric of this tiny city in south-eastern Connecticut was torn apart with the construction of the I-95 freeway and urban renewal. Often when we look at the damage caused to urban life by highway construction and urban renewal we tend to focus on what happened in large cities like Detroit, Buffalo, or even Hartford. Rarely do we think of the impact on small towns and cities. But in New England some of the worst damage occurred in smaller places like Torrington, CT and Pittsfield, MA. New London suffered particularly because it had so little land to spare in a city of less than 6 square miles.
I-95 and its system of ramps not only took over a large swath of this land but it also severed the physical connection between the downtown and the north end of the city. And it was not just a few unlucky residents that were isolated by this action, but also two prestigious colleges: Connecticut College and the Coast Guard Academy. The result is that unlike such New England towns like Northampton (MA) or Amherst (MA), New London does not look, feel or function like a college town and does not accrue the financial or social benefits of having two of the most important colleges in the country in its backyard.
Significance of the Project:
The purpose of our workshop is to develop a vision for restoring the connections in New London that were lost so quickly, in a matter of a few years in the 1960’s. We do not anticipate that all that was lost can be fully restored, but we hope to restore some degree of connection. The goal will be to improve the overall functioning of town, putting it on the path to a more prosperous future. In this workshop/charrette our focus will be on restoring pedestrian and bicycle connections between the colleges and the downtown by taming and rationalizing the complex highway junction that stands as such an obstructive barrier.
Our work is inspired by a handful of successful projects around the country, where communities have effectively managed to reconnect their hometowns by re-configuring 1960’s era highways into urban streets and places. Members of our team have been at the forefront of this effort, and have worked to successfully implement such projects. We have witnessed how projects like these have helped transform the fate of towns in America and in other places around the world.
We feel that our project can serve as a catalyst for accelerating the changes that are already underway in New London. We recognize that towns are more than their physical infrastructure, but that infrastructure, and especially the street network, is the framework upon which everything else hangs. Great towns have great streets. Streets affect the way a town functions by shaping how we experience that town and how we perceive that its amenities should be used.
This project is about developing a new vision for New London. We want to restore the understanding that New London is a town with incredible riches that have been overlooked. The current physical fragmentation colors perception. As a result few people think of New London as the compact, walkable college town that it could be. This proposal is about changing perception and setting the stage for unlocking the potential of the city.
We feel that this project is important for New London, but it will also serve as a working model for thousands of traditional hometowns in America that have suffered from highway construction and urban renewal. Furthermore, there is significant research to suggest that those places, such as Cambridge (MA) and Portland (OR) that have been able to restore connections and strengthen urbanity have also developed a much lower carbon impact for transportation. Given that 30% of American carbon production is from transportation, it behooves us to find ways to reduce vehicle travel. The real importance of this project lies in the fact that the restoring of connections in our traditional communities is increasingly being seen as a significant strategy for not only for reducing the nation’s environmental footprint but also for enhancing economic and social sustainability.